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NASA Inspector General: Commercial Crew Flights Delayed Until Summer 2020

NASA's Commercial Crew program will send astronauts to the International Space Station via commercial partners SpaceX and Boeing. Photo: NASA

NASA astronauts launching to the International Space Station from Florida may have to wait until at least next summer for rides to the station, according to a new report by the agency’s Inspector General.

Read the full report (PDF)

The report outlines delays in developing the parachutes, propulsion and launch abort systems for Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Because of those challenges, the space agency won’t send Commercial Crew astronauts to the station until at least Summer 2020.

NASA relies on Russia for rides to the station, but those rides are running out. The Russian space agency is reducing the frequency of Soyuz flights and a NASA wiaver allowing the agency to purchase services from the Russian government is due to expire soon. Without Commercial Crew or Soyuz, a U.S. presence on the space station could reduce to one astronaut, limiting crew tasks to just maintenance and leaving little time for science.

According to the report, in 2016 Boeing was paid a so-called premium of $287 million dollars to alleviate perceived delays to the program. SpaceX wasn’t offered a similar opportunity.

The Inspector General criticized Commercial Crew managers for offering the additional money for Starliner missions, calling $157 million of that payment “unnecessary costs.”

Boeing called negotiations for the additional money as “fair and open.” In a statement, the company said it “offered NASA additional flexibility and schedule resiliency to enhance future mission readiness by offering single-mission pricing for PCM’s 3-6 that was included in the pricing table in the original contract. This flexibility means Boeing is taking significantly more up-front financial risk, and is already helping NASA with critical decisions key to optimizing future ISS operations.”

SpaceX has completed an uncrewed mission to the ISS earlier this year, and is working towards a critical safety test of Crew Dragon’s abort system before a crewed mission to the station. “There is nothing more important to our company than human spaceflight, and we look forward to safely flying NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station starting early next year,” SpaceX said in a statement.

Boeing recently tested Starliner’s abort system. The company is moving towards an uncrewed test mission to the International Space Station launching December 17 from Cape Canaveral.

As of May 2019, Boeing and SpaceX’s Commercial Crew contracts were valued at $4.3 billion and $2.5 billion, respectively.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to ... Read Full Bio »